Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Reading Rhymes: Poetry in the Benson Ford Research Center Collection

November 19, 2021 Archive Insight

Do you ever wonder what treasures our collections might be hiding? What’s one thing you never really associated with The Henry Ford? Is it poetry? Then you are in luck. In November, our Instagram story for History Outside the Box focused on poetry within the collections of The Henry Ford and we are here now to dive a bit deeper into those holdings.

While you probably associate our research library with wonderful texts related to what you see on the museum floor, you may be surprised to learn we also have a small but mighty collection of poetry. Some of these rhyming collections found their way to The Henry Ford by way of some of our favorite people, like this collection of John Milton poems owned by the Wright family.

Blue book cover with text and images of winged horse and foliage, with swirling pattern in the background
Book Used by the Wright Family, The Poetical Works of John Milton, 1888. / THF241725

We’ve also collected poetry surrounding some of our Greenfield Village mainstays, such as the Robert Frost Home. This house was used by none other than poet Robert Frost during his time in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It now lives in Greenfield Village and offers a lasting connection to the poet who still remains in our hearts and syllabi today.

Front of two-story wooden house with porch with columns
Robert Frost Home on Original Site, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1923. / THF235307

White, two-story wooden house with porch with columns
Robert Frost Home in Greenfield Village. / THF1883

Frost is not the only poet that has a lasting connection with The Henry Ford—Henry Ford and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow have a lot more in common than meets the eye. Longfellow wrote one of his best-known collections, Tales of a Wayside Inn, about the Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Massachusetts. This same inn was then bought by Henry Ford with the intention of starting a living history village, similar to Greenfield Village, the one he eventually started here in Dearborn, Michigan.

Page with text and a man playing a violin in front of a fireplace as several people around a table listen
From Tales of a Wayside Inn by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1863. / THF149892

Black-and-white photo of man and woman standing on the porch of a building
Henry Ford and Clara Ford at the Wayside Inn, Sudbury, Massachusetts, circa 1923. / THF98987

But we are more than Longfellow and Frost. The Benson Ford Research Center’s collection of American poetry is a who’s who of everyone you remember from your high school English class. This includes the master of the macabre himself, Edgar Allen Poe. Our copy of The Raven is extra moody, with illustrations by Gustave Doré.

Gray book cover with text and image of angel or winged person with gold wings and halo, holding a candle and a key
The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe, Published 1884. / THF274358

Just like the rest of the research center’s collection, our poetry tries to cover all facets of the American experience. We collect some contemporary words by Black poets, as well as big names of the Harlem Renaissance and a former Poet Laureate.

Page with text and image of man holding up his head with one bent arm
The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, 1995. / THF278643

Green book cover with white text and black floral pattern
Selected Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks, 1963. / THF149899

While we are very much an American history museum, sometimes we find things from across the pond in our stacks. A favorite from our collection is an illustrated copy of Shakespeare's work, complete with sonnets!

Green book cover with brown band reading "SHAKSPERE" and other text as well as decorations in black and gold
The Works of William Shakspere [sic], 1868. / THF149886

Not to be outdone by the masters, ordinary people would send Henry their poems about his cars.

Lined sheet of notebook paper with handwritten cursive text on it
Poem, "The New Ford Car," Sent to Henry Ford by Ethel Cooper, December 12, 1927. / THF274498

And last but not least…. Henry even gave the pen a try as well. Here he has written a sweet poem to his soon-to-be wife, Clara.

Sheet with handwritten cursive poem
Poem, Written by Henry Ford for Clara Bryant, 1886-1888. / THF95972

Please visit our Digital Collections to check out even more artifacts from our collection related to poems and poetry.


Sarah Andrus is Librarian at The Henry Ford.

archives, by Sarah Andrus, books, History Outside the Box

Facebook Comments